Ms. Monolita Chatterjee spoke about gender issues at the Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi. She has worked with women & child violence victims, and people of extremely brutalized backgrounds.
Interacting with the audience that comprised students and faculty of La Trobe University, Australia, and CPPR team, in an in-House discussion, she spoke on wide range of issues concerning women. She said the intrinsic inequality of women are not experienced by most men. The moment the word ‘gender’ pops up, it becomes a woman’s topic. Men are not so enthusiastic about gender policy. There is a huge decision-making void in gender approach.
In Indian society, women are considered as property of men. In Indian culture, she is described as ‘paraya dhan’, which means someone else’s wealth. Also, women holding ownership of property is disparate. Women got a right on father’s property only since 2001. According to a study, the violence on women is directly linked to her property ownership. A woman without a property is vulnerable to violence.
She spoke on the economic role of women. There is a huge problem in the transition from education to economic productivity. All educated women are not reaping economic benefits. For every one-year increase in woman’s age, the probability of her drop out from the workforce keeps increasing. A woman is highly productive in her early 20’s. She faces family pressure for marriage in her mid-20s. By the late 30s, many women drop out of the workforce. Even a woman who chooses to stay in a workforce in her mid and late 20s, she would get involved in the reproductive role which will drag her behind. For each year loss of economic role due to her reproductive responsibility, a woman loses her productivity and will have to compete with the younger individuals. The loss of income suppresses a woman’s voice in the household and society. The solution is sharing the reproductive responsibility by both father and mother.
With respect to Kerala’s good social indicators, she said Kerala has better women empowerment (WE) programs compared to other states. Also, Kerala is one of the first states to have robust gender policy. The WE programs have played a huge role in educating Kerala women. But Kerala lags behind in Gender and Development (GAD) programs. Despite being educationally empowered, the dropout rate of Kerala women from the workforce is more than that in Rajasthan. Also, the representation of women in Kerala legislative assembly is dismal. Even in matrilineal families of Kerala, men have taken over the decision-making role. The state has largely turned into a patriarchal society. Kerala is not a gender-equal state, which is the tragedy and contradiction of the state.
She said the society was very open in ancient India. Women enjoyed sexual freedom and had decision-making powers. The status of women started to decline for about 500 years. She said women enjoy freedom where menstruation and fertility are celebrated. This was evident in tribal cultures of Aborigines, Native Americans etc.
The rise of misogyny has given rise to toxic masculinity which is harming men. Young men are groomed to be responsible and are subjected to burden. This has resulted in men suffering from suicidal tendencies, early development of non-communicable diseases etc.
The next speaker was Mr. Johanne who spoke on Kerala’s flood management. Kerala was severely affected due to the recent floods of 2018. The death toll reached to nearly 300. The last time Kerala faced such a natural disaster was in 1934, nearly 100 years ago. Due to this, Kerala didn’t have any idea about managing such a situation. 13 out of 14 districts were affected. The floods devastated houses and infrastructure of the state.
However, the state eventually managed to handle the situation. All stakeholders of society came together to manage the crisis. He said locals played a huge role in the rescue and rehabilitation process. 60% of the rescue operation was carried out by fishermen. The military also played a crucial role. The government agencies, the bureaucrats and the officials worked overboard to mitigate the situation. Students from universities took part in the operation.
He said that he contributed to the relief operations by using data mining technology to take information about affected areas and forwarding those details to government agencies. Also, WhatsApp messaging groups were created to share information.
The management of floods involved three phases – Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction. He lauded the government’s achievement in fixing road infrastructure within a month. The government launched an app for volunteers. Both the central government and the state government worked together. The central government gave good assistance in relief work but they didn’t help much in reconstruction. He said it could take nearly two to four years for complete reconstruction.